Extremis: Living in a Computer Simulation. Transhumanism in Popular Culture (Part 3)

Hello from your friendly neighbour, the ComicBook Imperative Guy! Just a few week’s from one of Doctor Who’s most intriguing episodes and I am still thrilled about it! Extremis was truly one of the best episodes in recent years! I have to admit that I am still excited with the way they handled all the information, as well as the way they introduced the looming danger that was quickly marching towards planet Earth, the Doctor and his companions.

The 10th season of the BBC science fiction series has been an absolute hit so far, giving us a brilliant Peter Capaldi (finally, getting stories and scripts that are up to his talent) and a new companion, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) that is simply amazing! Bill reminds me a lot of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). She is an everyday girl, she has to face all the issues people in her age have to face (college, job, love and social life etc) and she gets the chance to see the stars and the universe alongside the Doctor himself. The fact that Bill is gay is stripping her relationship with the Doctor from every hint of romance and focuses on a teacher-student relationship that is really engaging. Overall, season 10 has been an absolute favourite of mine thus far (competing with seasons 2, 4, 5 and 6).

Doctor Who Series 10 Extremis 16
Doctor Who – Extremis – BBC 

Extremis, though, was a stand out. The official synopsis was: In the Haereticum – the Vatican’s secret library of blasphemy – there is an ancient book known only as The Veritas. Throughout history, anyone who has ever read it has immediately taken their own life. Now a new translation is online, and the danger is spreading. The Vatican appeals to the Doctor. Will he read The Veritas? But can even the Doctor survive the ultimate truth? And what truth that was. Penned by Steven Moffat, the master of the asynchronous storylines, we have a scenario where reality is nothing but a computer simulation of an advanced alien race, making their war plans in order to find the right time to conquer earth. People that find out the truth about the reality of their existence find the only way out possible: by taking their own lives. The episode was only the introduction of a three-part story that is going to be a fan-favorite for years.

Even though the episode itself is brilliant and there so many things that one could focus on, I decided to write about the core premise of the episode: that is the life in a computer simulation and what that implies about the status of the people inside this simulation. Firstly, it is important to take a look at the reality of this idea. Are we living in a computer simulation? This is a question posed by Nick Bostrom (as well as other philosophers and scientists). In one of his articles his proposes that one the following statements have to be true: “[t]his paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation,” (Nick Bostrom, “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation,” in Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 211 (2003): 243‐255). The Simulation Hypothesis has been around for years and, as Bostrom noted, the core idea is that reality is nothing but a mere simulation that is so convincing that even the people that experience it cannot tell the difference between actuality and simulation.

Doctor Who – Extremis – BBC 

One of the main issues that arise from a simulated reality is the fact that we might end up with an infinite amount of simulated realities (simulation in a simulation). As long as people do not realise that they are living in a computer simulation, they could end up at the same place as their predecessors of sorts, that is wanting to create the simulation for various reasons (for example to study the trajectory of their evolutionary process or even just for entertainment reasons – most of us are probably familiar with the PC game The Sims, where we could simulate everyday life and activities by controlling our Sim[s]).

I find that it would be interesting to also raise the unavoidable determinism of the simulation hypothesis and how that affects the people living inside it. It seems almost impossible for us to fathom a scenario where every single aspect of our existence is predetermined by a computer programme. Living in a simulated world resembles the various deterministic philosophical and scientific theories. The deterministic aspect of the simulated world stem from the fact that some kind of a super-intelligent AI or a posthuman being created and facilitated the conditions of its existence down to the very last detail. This is an absolute kind of determinism that seems even more tangible than some form of a naturalistic determinism.

What would happen, though, if/when people realised the most well-kept secret in the world is the fact that their very life was just a simulation? Every feeling, every thought, you, the people you love, your life’s work everything is nothing more than just a simulation that someone else runs. And you have no way to access the true information about your existence. Having the experience of creating avatars, sims, or personas online and how quickly one could make them disappear, amplifies the fear of a simulated life. While post-modernism have often pointed out the insignificance of human existence, it is still rather challenging to accept the simulation hypothesis without having to face a real existential crisis.

Doctor Who – Extremis – BBC 

So, what do you think? Are we living in a computer simulation?

The ComicBook Imperative Guy




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